By: Hugh Roberts
I passed the spliff to Ben, who passed it over to Cole, holding it at arm’s length, as though it could turn into a snake and bite him. I hadn’t seen Little Benny in over 10 years, and he looked exactly the same, like one of those miniature dinosaurs you put in water that keeps its shape but grows to ten times its size. He’d always had a large head, and we assumed he’d eventually grow into it, he hadn’t. Hard to believe that at 24, he was working at an investment firm in Boston with plans to get his MBA at Stanford. He should have been an actor. Actors with big heads do well.
I studied him from the corner of my eye. He was smiling a contented smile. As one of the few to get away, did he feel the same apathy towards our hometown of Stowe, Vermont? We’d both left in our first years of high school, wanting to find something more than the small tourist town had to offer. After those first few years at boarding school, I’d never been able to interact the same with these friends. Did he look down on those that had stayed the same, as I did? Did he crave their adoration too?
As the gondola began to slow, we grabbed our belongings and prepared to disembark. The doors slid open and we clambered out one by one, sheepishly smiling at the attendant as we straightened our matching khaki linen suits. This morning, five beers back, we had looked uniformly presentable in these suits, but now each man had made his personal alterations – untucking shirts, discarding vests, rolling sleeves.
Earlier in the day, the groom’s mother had begged me, as the “responsible” one, to make sure that everyone was in their suits and sober at 1 PM to ascend the mountain in time to usher both families to their seats. At least I’d taken care of the suits. We were hard-drinking men-children who didn’t like to be told what to do, especially by those same parents who had done so for years before our great escape to the nation’s universities.
We walked from the base of the gondola to the grand hall in the newly constructed monstrosity known to would-be ski bums as the Stowe Mountain Lodge. I marveled at the polish of the great hall that had ended my childhood. 50-foot ceilings were held up by ornately hand-carved pillars and kept out the muggy September air with huge panes of glass, stacked one on top of the other. It was a temple built with big business money. Once upon a time, my parents had owned and operated a hotel and restaurant down in the village. This lodge had been built during the recession and had pushed many small operations out of business and out of town. My parents lost their business, their home and their marriage in a matter of months. By the time they declared bankruptcy, I was already in Los Angeles, pursuing my dreams of being the next Ed Norton or Will Ferrell or Cary Grant or whatever the business would let me be. After the divorce, I’d had no reason to return until now, for the wedding of my childhood best friend.
“Jesus,” I muttered, as Cole ambled towards me.
“This place is fucking ridiculous.”
“Shit, that’s right… you haven’t been in here. Pretty slick, right?
“I guess…” I scanned the grand hall. “Are any of the bridesmaids single?” I was looking for any potential conquest fit to play the night’s love interest- anyone to further the plot. I hope they play “Shout”, I thought to myself, remembering the montage from Wedding Crashers. Cole nudged me hard with his shoulder.
“Let’s get a beer.”
After checking with a few guests that it was, in fact, an open bar we all but sprinted for it. In your twenties, you can beeline to the bar and it isn’t seen as a problem yet. I nicked Cole’s ankle with the tip of my patent leather shoe tripping him up. I laughed wildly, not at all concerned about coming off stoned. Tonight, this temple was ours. I sidled up and threw my arm around Cole. The brunette behind the bar was on her phone, her back to us.
“’Scuse me,” I murmured, not wanting to be rude to the gatekeeper of what I intended to be a fun-filled, alcohol-fueled night. Turning on the charm to combat the slothful effects of the spliff, I tried again “Ma’am? Could we get a couple Heady Toppers for a couple weary groomsmen?”
She turned sharply and I instantly recognized her: Melissa McGovern. Funny and kind, she had been one of the better-looking girls from our graduating class.
Of all the gin joints in all the world… it made perfect sense that I would see her here. It was clearly a sign. She had been my first kiss, after all, a sneaky peck during a screening of Rush Hour. She’d been my first “girl friend” back in seventh grade. I had pined over her when she left me for an older guy who had been better at sports. Standing before us at the bar, however, I saw that her teeth were faintly discolored from cigarettes and infrequent cleanings, her cheeks reddened from long days skiing and longer nights drinking. She wore copious makeup in a vain struggle to regain a semblance of what I now assumed had been her glory days. She squealed and I smiled.
Finish the rest of this wild whirl of a story in Sheriff Nottingham Vol. 2, Iss. 1